HUMAN RIGHTS: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
China and Vietnam human rights crackdown
, April 30, 2011
China’s leaders are cracking down on dissidents while, over the border, Vietnamese and Laotian officials are brutally persecuting Christians. Patrick J. Byrne reports.
Laotian and Vietnamese troops brutally abused, then executed at point-blank range, four young Hmong Christian women in front of their husbands and families, after confiscating their one Bible, according to a recent report by the Washington-based Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA).
The executive director of CPPA, Philip Smith, denounced the killings as being part of a “very dramatic” increase in religious persecution, imprisonment, torture and killing of Laotian and Vietnamese Hmong Christians for celebrating Christmas or worshipping independently over the past year.
The persecution includes independent Buddhist and animist believers in Laos.
Meanwhile, China’s best-known artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei, was detained at Beijing airport on April 3, and has not been heard of since.
The government has accused Ai and many others of hiding behind the law, announcing that “no law can protect” such “troublemakers”.
Repression in China has usually gone in cycles. Periodically, the regime relaxes its grip and allows greater freedom of expression, including criticism of the government. Then, there is a crackdown, in which the most outspoken critics are imprisoned.
The current bout of repression began with the 2008 Tibetan riots, and has intensified rather than eased.
China’s “princely class” — the aristocratic rulers from the revolutionary families of Mao’s era — can easily manage, control and suppress any one dissident or disaffected group. However, they fear a coalescing of the aggrieved, especially as the internet can connect people and groups widely dispersed, despite the authority’s tight control of the web.
There are many groups with grievances against the government — dispossessed villages who have had poor or no compensation for the loss of their land, angry internet-bloggers fed up with draconian censorship, oppressed Christians and minorities, families who lost their children when poorly constructed buildings collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and unemployed graduates.
The recent crackdown has seen dozens detained and facing criminal charges. Others have been beaten up by goon squads or placed under house arrests.
Some of China’s leading defence lawyers have been arrested and vanished.
The Beijing government had the opportunity to show a new, more open and tolerant face to the world when hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.
Instead, activists who could have spoken out during these events, and thousands of migrant workers whose presence could have embarrassed the regime, were rounded up and sent to other parts of China.
Beijing’s leaders are conflicted between their boastfulness abroad and paranoia at home over challenges to their political power.
Their exuberant confidence to the world has come from two decades of rapid economic growth, with China having become the manufacturing centre of the world and lender to the developed nations from its US$3 trillion in foreign reserves.
This system has allowed the “princeling” class to amass enormous wealth. Members of this elite have a vested interest in using China’s vast internal security forces to maintain their power and privilege.
Their political legitimacy is based on maintaining rapid economic growth and on projecting China abroad as the Middle Kingdom, after several centuries of humiliating foreign domination.
Yet their legitimacy is under challenge. The “jasmine revolution” sweeping aside old Middle-Eastern regimes has rattled Beijing.
The Economistmagazine (April 16, 2011) points out that an emerging nation’s average gross domestic product per person can grow rapidly for some years/decades; but once it hits around US$16,700 (measured in purchasing-power-parity), economic growth slows.
While this is not an iron law of economics, China hit that point around 2015.
According to Will Hutton — China watcher, former editor-in-chief of The Observer and board member of the London School of Economics — several other factors make Beijing’s leaders increasingly nervous.
Interviewed on the ABC’s Lateline (April 18, 2011), he said “the Chinese financial system is many times more fragile than the American and British and Western banking system was in the run-up to the financial crash in 2008.… [I]t’s lent many times more than GDP.… Many of those loans, there’s no interest paid or principal ever repaid. [T]his is an accident waiting to happen.”
Inflation is rapidly eroding the huge collective savings of Chinese workers and farmers, many of whom still store their money under the bed.
Further, the next generation of leaders, due to take over next year, are five generations removed from the revolutionary generals who took control of China in 1949. Gorbachev was only five generations away from Lenin, when the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight.
Communist ideology has lost its legitimacy.
Hutton says China is a “tinderbox”.
Expect the repression to continue … and resistance to grow.
Patrick J. Byrne is vice-president of the National Civic Council.